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2. The Chaplain
I'll be the shadow, you'll be the light
Last episode we dabbled in a bit of magic. Now we’ve arrived at the Tarot card that inspired me to undertake this project once and for all.
2 | The High Priestess
In traditional Tarot, the High Priestess archetype is the embodiment of both feminine divinity and intuitive wisdom—the former exuded by the archetype’s robes, Hathor-inspired crown, and surrounding temple, the latter symbolized by the moon. But she is also the flow beyond the binary masculine and feminine, the balance of yin and yang, the mediator between the dark and the light. She’s both the veil that shrouds esoteric mystery and the hand that lifts the veil to reveal our capacity to tap into our own instinctual knowledge. Black and white pillars that flank her sides symbolize this “both/and” concept, in which contradicting truths can live in harmony with one another (hmm, what could that be like?!). To me, she embodies a persona that paradoxically holds authority over vast, spiritual wisdom and yet shuns authority altogether, breaks the rules entirely, and gifts that wisdom to we laypeople. When you draw this card, it means there are signs and synchronicities everywhere. It’s high time you pay attention and follow the crumbs to a deep wisdom waiting to give you everything you’ve ever needed to know.
Another symbol that frequently accompanies the High Priestess is the pomegranate, a fruit packed with seeds that make it appear bejeweled with garnets of blood. The pomegranate plays a huge role in the Greek myth of Persephone’s kidnapping by Hades to the Underworld where she willingly becomes the Queen of the Dead.
I imagined the character you’re about to meet very early on, as I sketched out the Bonesick universe nearly a year ago now. I’ve been timid about how exactly she’d play out with Toby and the gang, not to mention how she’d look. I wanted to be sure. But after I reconnected to the High Priestess symbolism and mythology during my New Moon adventure last month, I discovered there’s absolutely no one else who could step into the role. And screw being sure!
So here she is…
2 | The Chaplain
Calling it a night, she had almost reached the institute’s back door when hickory filled her nostrils. She paused, did a quarter turn to the left, and walked toward the library instead. Home would have to wait.
She had a sneaking suspicion he’d be there. Sure enough, at one of the wood tables, stacks of thick ancient books surrounded the old man, fifty years her senior at least. A marigold flicker from the nearby fire danced across his furrowed expression, all folds and eyebrows. She approached him and whispered, “Stu…? Big midnight oil vibes in here, what’s up?”
“B’trix, hello.” The old man barely gave her a glance. “Listen to this: ‘Do not make sexual advances unless you are given the mating signal.’” Stu read aloud from one of the open books that surrounded him. “Do not take that which does not belong to you unless it is a burden to the other person and he cries out to be relieved.’”
“Hmm…” B’trix nodded along. “Brushin’ up on Satanism, I see.”
The old man continued with purpose. “B, I had no idea they had these rules! And this: ‘Do not harm little children. Do not kill non-human animals unless you are attacked or for your food….’”
B’trix interrupted, “Well, I’d argue about the food part. C’mon now, Stu, what are you doing? We went over this a hundred times.”
“I know, I know, B. I just—how can I not know all this?” he gestured to the book piles. “If I don’t understand these people, what they believe in, I’ll just sit there like a naive idiot.”
“Stu, Stu, this is 101 stuff, man. You learned this back on the first day! You’re just there to listen, remember?” B’trix urged. “The more you know, the less you’re … there. There for them.”
He grumbled and slammed the book closed. “B’trix, I honestly don’t think that’s the best approach for everyone here.”
She closed her mouth and took a deep breath. Practice what you preach, girl. “Ok, Stu, let’s start over. You said you’d feel like a ‘naive idiot.’ Tell me more about that.”
Stu took a breath himself and continued. “I’m just afraid I’ll offend someone with my ignorance. I’m afraid I’ll say the wrong thing and make it worse. I’m going to get canceled, I know it.”
B’trix chuckled to herself. “Stu, I hear you. Remember though, you were selected for good reason. All these books…” She lifted the thickest one and smoothed her hand over the spine, leaving a long dusty smudge in its wake. “…there’s a good reason they exist. They’re important to these people.”
“Exactly!” Stu stood up exasperated.
“But for us? They’re anchors.” B’trix tossed the book to the ground, and its thunder filled the entire library. Stu sat back down. She continued, “As much as knowledge has gifted us with progress and enlightenment, it just as easily holds us back. There’s always more to learn. And more. And it’s relentless. The power of learning possesses us to the point where we no longer trust our instincts. When you chain yourself to the word, the rules, the laws, the proverbs, the platitudes—there isn’t any room left for nuance.”
“Nuance.” Stu echoed softly.
B’trix looked at Stu very carefully. Stu looked at the fire, dying now into embers. Trepidatiously she added, “I know you haven’t been in the Room yet. But trust me, the Room is one hundred percent nuance.”
Stu dropped his shoulders and rubbed the deep creases in his forehead. “No, I understand.” He paused for a few minutes. B’trix let the darkening library fill with silence. Then Stu spoke again, “Is this one of those ‘the rules are: there are no rules’ scenarios?”
B’trix’s laughter broke the heavy quiet into lighter pieces. “It really doesn’t make a whole lot of sense that there’s a giant library here full of religious texts, does it?”
“Temptresses! I’m like a kid in a candy store in here!” Stu stood again and began to pile up the books that scattered the table. He looked over at the fireplace. “Wow, it got dark in here. Do you have a light by chance?”
B’trix felt a spark shimmer deep in her chest, an old memory began to burn there. “My mentor told me something years ago when I was in your shoes, maybe it’ll help you too. She said to me: ‘The role of the chaplain is to hold hands in the dark, not to search around for a flashlight in order to find the light switch.*’”
Even in the shadow and shape, she could sense that Stu lifted his head to meet her gaze. Not typically one for awkward displays of affection, B’trix mustered up the courage, reached out, and grasped the old man’s hand in hers.
Synchronicity of the Week:
I think I used up my syncro a month ago when I initially came up with this project, hesitated to move forward when I mentally tripped on the High Priestess card, and then pulled the High Priestess card moments later in a reading.
The phrases Stu recites in italics are from The Eleven Satanic Rules of the Earth by Anton Szandor LaVey courtesy of The Church of Satan, rules that surprised me too when I first read them.
*The phrase B’trix recalls from her mentor is directly quoted from one of my all-time favorite writers,, who inspired this Tarot card and character role. You can read more about Mari’s experience as a volunteer chaplain here. And then this piece of hers is likely the pomegranate seed that was planted in my head long before Bonesick was even a thing. You’ll definitely see the echo in B’trix’s pontification.
Next time: It’s time to meet the parents.
Any pomegranate seeds of insight popping into your imagination lately? Subscribe and let’s follow the breadcrumbs and think up more food metaphors!